Technology vs Community
In our readings in Literature of the Future, we were presented with many scenarios on both ends of the technology spectrum, from the neolithic age of House of Bones, to the ultra tech Johnny Mnemonic. As I read through the selections, some overarching themes began to develop. Many of the technologically advanced stories contained characters that were much more individualistic in nature as opposed to their low tech counterparts. The characters of the low tech stories were very community focused. I will be using selections from House of Bones, Chocco, and Parable of the Sower, to illustrate my views on low tech future visions, and the short stories in Burning Chrome, to represent high tech scenarios.
In many of the low tech stories we read, the characters were very close knit. Chocco follows the story of the River People a group of people who banded together after the "Machine People" nearly destroyed the planet. They "polluted wide areas... causing much disease."(FP, 196). To ensure that this didn't happen again, the River People created the role of Memory Keeper. Elizabeth L Suffron states in her essay "Don't Run with Scissors", that a Memory Keeper "must possess exceptional retention, rich in detail, delivering each memory eloquent[ly] and convincing[ly]". The Memory Keeper is the most prestigious job one can aspire to, but when Michael isn't selected as Keeper, he does not fight it. The community is more important than self.
In House of Bones, Gebraver is stranded in a prehistoric age and is taken in by a tribe of primitive men, "not savages, far from it. But they aren't even remotely like modern people." (FP,88). He was a man of many talents "electronics, computers, and time-shift physics," (FP, *89), all of which become hopelessly inadequate when he becomes stranded. The prehistoric people take him in, and he learns from them how to survive in this new, old world. In turn, he desires to teach them what he can of technology of their future. He desires to contribute to the community which saved his life.
Lauren in Parable of the Sower, lives in a love/hate relationship with her community at first. "Its like an island surrounded by sharks except that sharks don't bother you unless you go in the water. But our land sharks are on the way in. It's just a matter of how long it takes until they get hungry enough" (Sower, 18). When the sharks found their way in, Lauren escaped and met with some from her old community. In their travels, more came to join their group, until they became their own small community. They looked after each other, provided for one another, and killed to keep the community safe.
Survival of the Fittest
By contrast, community has little to do with many of the high tech scenarios read by the class. The characters from William Gibson's Burning Chrome anthology all showed an independent streak. They are driven by their own desires and goals, and pursue them regardless of what, or who gets in their way. Other people are, at best, bystanders, or obstacles, and at worst, targets.
The titular character in Johnny Mnemonic, is marked for death by the Yakuza for information stored in his head, that he can't even access. "I had hundreds of megabytes stashed in my head on an idiot/savant basis, information I had no conscious access to." (JM 1.5). "Client's code is stored in a special chip... Can't drug it out, cut it out, torture it. I don't know it. Never did." (JM 4.6). He is saved by Molly Millions who he offers two million. Molly also want to kill the Yakuza hit man who is targeting Johnny. "I'm gonna get that boy. Tonight. He's the best, number one, top dollar, state of the art." (JM 3.3). Molly shoots heroin into a junkie dolphin and endangers a gang of Low Teks in order to put the assassin in an advantageous position for her to fight and kill him. In doing so, Molly gets the Yakuza off Johnny's back, but that was secondary to the fight. She had to know if she was better than the assassin, and she risked her life to find out.
In Burning Chrome, hackers went after and underworld boss' computer in cyberspace in order to intercept steal the money she was laundering for organized crime. Chrome, their target, in addition to money laundering, ran a new age brothel where the prostitutes are rendered unconscious, and used as living sex dolls. " I tried not to imagine her in the House of Blue Lights, working three hour shifts in an approximation of REM sleep, while her body and a bundle of conditioned reflexes took care of business. The customers never got to complain she was faking it, because those were real orgasms... Yeah, its so popular, its almost legal." (BC 194). Chrome doesn't care what happens to these women, just as Bobby and Jack don't care that clearing out her accounts is essentially the same as murdering Chrome. "I though about Chrome too That we'd murdered her, as surely as if we'd slit her throat... We'd taken her for everything she had... I doubted she'd live till dawn." (BC 181.) Whether it was Bobby and Jack, Chrome, or the customers at the House of Blue Lights, everyone had their own desires, and it didn't matter what happened to others, as long as those desires were met.
The world of Hinterlands, is so obsessed with acquiring alien artifacts and technology that they regularly sacrifice astronauts and cosmonauts in order to possibly acquire more. The space travelers all come back either dead, or mentally damaged beyond repair. "Our DOA count is twenty percent. Suicide. Seventy percent of the meatshots are automatic candidates for Wards: the diaper cases, mumblers, totally gone. Charmian and I are surrogates for the other ten percent. (H 5.8). The surrogate program is a token gesture of aid for people who may have a chance of recovery. None have ever recovered. "She (Charmian) holds the current record; she kept a man alive for two weeks, until he put his eyes out with his thumbs." (H 8.4). Despite all of this, the benefits to sending people to the Highway, as the area of space where the transportation takes place is called, are deemed to outweigh the risks. "...a dead Frenchmen returned with a twelve centimeter ring of magnetically coded steel.. that ring was the Rosetta Stone for cancer." (H 6.1). There is also no shortage of volunteers. The surrogates are people who tried to make the trip but, for some reason were not selected by the unknown force. Toby, the narrator states, "Even now, knowing what I know, I still want to go." (H 8.6).
The Safety to be Selfish
Perhaps technology has enabled this individualism. The River People had to band together to survive after the Machine People scorched the earth. The early men in House of Bones formed a community for protection against a newer earth that was still an ever present threat to their existence. Even Lauren and her followers had to protect each other from wild dogs, forest fires, and other people who had regressed to an almost feral state. On the other hand, Molly Millions's cyberware made her the most dangerous person in any given situation, so she desired to eliminate the only other potential threat to her dominance. Bobby and Jack, could destroy lives from miles away, and if they were able to mask their presence, no one would ever know it was them. The people of Hinterlands, can continue to send countless brave or foolish volunteers to the Highway, and reap the benefits as their broken shells return. Perhaps with no inherent struggle for survival, humans must contrive some struggle of their own. Without the need for the protection of the community, the individual is free to seek his or her own interests.